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AHI Commends U.S. Commission’s International Religious Freedom Report For Keeping Turkey on Its “Watch List”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: C. Franciscos Economides
May 4, 2010—No. 30 (202) 785-8430

AHI Commends U.S. Commission’s International Religious Freedom Report For Keeping Turkey on Its “Watch List”

Calls for Enforcement of International Religious Freedom Act

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Hellenic Institute commends the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on the release of its 2010 Annual Report which places Turkey on the Commission’s “Watch List” for the second consecutive year.

“We applaud the Commission for correctly identifying Turkey as a country that is in need of being closely monitored for serious violations of religious freedom,” said Executive Director Nick Larigakis. “By placing Turkey on its ‘Watch List’ for the second consecutive year, the Commission reaffirms the Turkish government’s toleration of assaults upon its Greek Orthodox Christian minority, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and its continued illegal closure of the Greek Orthodox Halki Patriarchal School of Theology. These are all actions that violate the founding principles and laws of the United States.”

The Commission’s Annual Report specifically cites that the legality of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not recognized, the right for it to maintain and own property is denied, and that it is unable to train clergy.

“The purpose of placing a country such as Turkey on the ‘Watch List’ is so policymakers will have the opportunity to engage it in an effort to diminish the violations that are being tolerated by that country’s government,” Larigakis said. “The question is, ‘Will United States policymakers proactively engage the Turkish government on these egregious issues, and more importantly, enforce the provisions of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, under which this annual report is prepared in compliance?’”

Under the International Religious Freedom Act, the president of the United States is obligated to oppose violations of religious freedom in any country whose government “engages in or tolerates violations of religious freedom and promote the right to religious freedom in that country.” The Act further obligates the president to take one or more of 15 enumerated actions with respect to any such country.

In AHI’s Annual Policy Statements, the Institute has repeatedly called for enforcement of the Act in addition to calling on the U.S. government to urge Turkey to:

  • Implement and strictly enforce the guarantees of religious freedom and human and minority rights set forth in the Treaty of Lausanne, the UN Charter, other international agreements, and U.S. laws.
  • Grant legal personality to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, recognize the ecumenical role of the Patriarch and the Patriarchate, and safeguard it.
  • Immediately reopen the Halki School of Theology and lift restrictions on the elections of the Patriarch.
  • Promptly return nearly 7,000 illegally confiscated properties from the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Turkish government since 1936.
  • Respect human and minority rights in Turkey.

Larigakis also commended the report for highlighting the Ergenekon plot that included the alleged plans to include assassination attempts upon Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Armenian Orthodox patriarch all as part of an alleged overthrow of the Turkish government.

Finally, Larigakis expressed disappointment that Imam Dr. Talal Y. Eid, a commissioner, abstained from the Watch List recommendation for Turkey. He cited that the situation in Turkey is not as serious as it is in Greece, according to the report.

“Obviously, Dr. Eid is absolutely flat-out wrong,” Larigakis said. “Furthermore, we question why an objective evaluation of Turkey’s abuses of religious freedom would have anything to do with Greece or any other nation for that matter in making an assessment,” Larigakis said.

To download the USCIRF Annual Report, click here. (4.43MB PDF file)

The American Hellenic Institute is a non-profit Greek American think-tank and public policy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.

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For additional information, please contact C. Franciscos Economides at (202) 785-8430 or at [email protected]. For general information about the activities of AHI, please see our website at http://www.ahiworld.org